Why do scientific revolutions begin?

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2012
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Abstract
This paper is concerned with the problem of why scientific revolutions begin. It considers first Kuhn's view that a revolution is started by a build-up of anomalies in the old paradigm. This view is criticized on historical grounds by considering the examples of the Einsteinian revolution and the Copernican revolution. It is argued that there was no significant build-up of anomalies in the old paradigm just before the beginning of these revolutions. An alternative view is then put forward that the start of a revolution has to be explained in terms of technology and practical problems (or tech for short). There are two patterns: (i) tech first in which technological advances lead to new discoveries and these lead to the onset of the revolution, and (ii) tech last in which the need to solve an urgent practical problem produces a challenge to the old paradigm. If this challenge is successful, the new paradigm leads to a solution of the practical problem and so to technological advance. The tech first pattern is illustrated by the example of the chemical revolution, and the tech last pattern by the example of the development of the germ theory of disease. It is then argued that scientific revolutions can exhibit a combination of tech first and tech last, and this is illustrated by the Copernican revolution. In the final section of the paper, it is shown that the 'tech first/tech last' theory explains why the Copernican revolution occurred in Europe in the 16 th and 17 th centuries, and not in the ancient Greek world (with Aristarchus), or in China in the 16 th and 17 th centuries.
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renaissance and early modern, modern, scientific instruments, technology, physics, medicine, the role of technology and practical applications in initiating scientific revolutions, with the cases of Galileo's invention of telescope and the emergence of the germ theory of disease
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Downstream publication: Gillies, Donald. (2015) "Why do Scientific Revolutions begin?" Heuristic Reasoning, 89-112.
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